The second of Music in the Mountain’s SummerFest orchestral series was a double novelty. It was a piano “concital,” a combination concerto and recital, and a collaboration between local contemporary landscape artist LeeAnn Brook and Russian pianist Alexander Korsantia.
The problem with concertos is whether to pay attention to the orchestra or the soloist. We tend to want more of both without the distraction of the other. MIM’s solution: a concert that was part orchestral, part solo recital and part concerto — the best of all worlds.
The art-music collaboration also made sense. It was 10 drawings and watercolors by the Russian Viktor Hartmann that inspired his friend Mussorgsky to create his unique piano suite, “Pictures at an Exhibition.” But in the MIM collaboration, it was the music that inspired the art rather than the other way around. Painting on a large canvas at the back of the hall, Brook created in real time her interpretation of “Pictures,” projected onto an on-stage screen, while pianist Alexander Korsantia played the dramatic work.
It was a rare experience to observe the two perform at the same time. I felt like a voyeur watching Brook painting without a net: Painters usually work in private; pianists perform in public. Sometimes her approach meshed with the music — sweeping gestures, staccato brushwork, slashes of white echoing the pealing bells. Sometimes she seemed to be pursuing a totally different train of thought.
Korsantia’s interpretation was vivid, sensitive and grandiose. His “Promenade” captured the moods of the viewers’ progress through the exhibition. Each “Picture” was a vibrant sound-portrait: the brooding of “The Old Castle”; gossamer lightness in “Ballet of the Chicks in Their Shells”; the energy of the “Marketplace at Limoges”; somber darkness in “Catacombs”; and the triumphal majesty of the “Gates of Kiev.” He plays stooped low over the keyboard, seeming to breathe into his fingers an intensity that never lets up. Just superb.
The collaboration was fascinating, if for some a distraction from the music. It gave rare insight into the creative process to see Brook’s abstract painting evolving, a marked contrast to Hartmann’s precise and painstaking representations.
Chopin’s “First Piano Concerto” was light relief after the intensity of “Pictures.” Chopin wrote little for the orchestra, and in his two piano concertos, the orchestra is more an accompaniment than equal partner. Korsantia was the focus, his posture now upright, as though drawing inspiration from the air. He demonstrated his range and power — passion and tenderness in the first movement, emotional depth in the second, sparkling wit and technical brilliance in the formidable third movement.
The orchestra had its outing, too, in “Summer” from Alexander Glazunov’s ballet “The Seasons,” a lush, somnolent, flower-filled orchestral impression, an opportunity to give the full ensemble and maestro Gregory Vayda our undivided attention.
Charles Atthill, son of a painter and a pianist, lives in Alta Sierra. No wonder the “Pictures” collaboration resonated with him.